Juice – #2 Film in the US, Jan. 17, 1992
All time domestic gross – $20,146,880
Juice carries a gripping debut performance from Tupac Shakur. It’s a story of corrupt power elevated by cinematographer Ernest R. Dickerson.
For 1992, Juice was “the” hood film of the year. It’s nestled in 1992 between two stone-cold hood film classics. First was the brilliant poignant of John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood in 1992. The second was the brutal and realistic Menace II Society by the Hughes Brothers in 1993. Juice is also the highest-grossing hood movie of the year ($20 million) with only Deep Cover being in second. Spoilers: Deep Cover will also be a part of this series.
The main reason the film remains popular is because of rapper Tupac Shakur. This film isn’t the first film appearance of Shakur, but it’s the most prominent. Shakur’s first appearance on film was Nothing But Trouble. It was part of a performance from Digital Underground for the absolute banger of a track “Same Song.” This song is significant for being the first verse ever recorded by Shakur as 2Pac. 2Pacalypse was released in 1991 to much critical acclaim setting the path for his eventual superstardom.
Shakur was no stranger to acting having studied at the Baltimore School for the Arts. This is where he would meet Jada Pinkett (pre-Smith) and kick off his love of poetry and artistry to perform. Shakur himself would have a small six-film filmography before his murder in 1996. He would only live to see three of them in his lifetime: 1993’s Poetic Justice, 1994’s Above the Rim, and Juice.
Q aka Quincy (Omar Epps in his film debut) is a teenager focused on becoming a DJ setting his sights on winning a competition in Harlem. Q hangs with his pals Roland Bishop (Shakur), Raheem (Khalil Khan), and Eric “Steel” Thompson (Jermaine Hopkins) skipping school and hanging at the local pool hall. Bishop’s obsessed with gaining power and respect comparing himself to James Cagney in White Heat. After a constant battle with Radames (Vincent Laresca) and his gang, Bishop decides to plan a stickup with the rest of the crew to garner respect in the hood aka “the Juice.”
The stick-up takes place during a break in the DJ competition Q participates in. Q makes it to the second round, but during the stickup break, it goes awry when Bishop shoots and kills the store owner in the head. Freaking out, the crew escapes to an abandoned building. Bishop and Raheem get into an argument over the incident and Bishop’s actions. What follows is the corruption of Bishop and Q’s struggle to break from the mold Bishop is shaping into.
Dickerson’s debut is a strong start by delivering a smaller story with large consequences. Dickerson was Spike Lee’s cinematographer of choice working on films such as 1989’s Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X released the same year as Juice. Dickerson comes into his own here framing shots that give a sense of danger. The abandoned warehouse scene alone filled with rich shadows and unease. Q’s close-up as he runs after the stickup is a standout shot of his. Q’s lost in a haze reeling from seeing Bishop’s unhinged mind take hold. Dickerson would go on to direct one of my favorite films, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight. That film gives him more free range of his style. His style is still present in Juice albeit in small portions here.
Shakur as Bishop is a brilliant terrifying descent of a teenager into the world of hatred and violence. This is the second review in the series where the film’s elevated by a villainous performance. Bishop’s villainy is a slow eruption waiting to burst with few foreshocks in it. The aftershocks from the stickup carry into the death of the friend group. He becomes selfish and corrupted by the idea of garnering respect that he throws him into chaos in “I don’t give a fuck” mode.
Yet, what makes it impactful is that this isn’t an adult struggling, this is a teenager. There is a battle within him that he struggles with having to go from a normal kid to someone that craves the need to be respected. While in the abandoned warehouse, he is warring with his own motives. He’s lying to himself and others that the owner was about to make a move. The desire takes hold never letting go. It’s a slow burn of corruption that scolds him into becoming another young thug like Radames. It’s a corruption that makes him frame Q for all his crimes and carries the burden of his actions for the rest of his life.
Epps is great in this respect too having to make Q go from a loving friend to a loving foe. Q isn’t innocent either by having a relationship with an older woman that is pure squick thinking about. He is roughly 15. She’s in her early-to-mid 20s). Yet, Q’s focused on making it out of the hood as a DJ to become a known name gaining his juice from the DJ community. Epps plays the innocence up in a way that doesn’t feel too goody two shoes but doesn’t come overbearing either. He does not want the same route as Bishop. Over the course of a few days, though, he is not given the choice anymore to escape that line of thinking. This is on top of the constant harassment from the police and the perception of young black men in Harlem. These perceptions always give him a target on his back.
Q is Bishop’s perfect foil. When they come face-to-face at the conclusion, Dickerson reminds the audience that these two are still teenagers. They are also still brothers in friendship. The fear in Bishop’s voice as he clings to Q’s arm in a desperate attempt to remain alive is crucial with Q trying to keep his brother beside him. Yet, Q has to think about what would happen if he continues his current reign of power. It’s a pivotal scene that resonates to this day with the opening quote of the review closing out the film. The final line still makes waves with those who watch Juice.
Juice may not be hailed as a masterpiece alongside Boyz or Menace, but it’s memorable in its own right. Juice delivers a personal story of how power corrupts. It gave Epps the beginning for a successful career. It gave Dickerson a hood classic under his name. Juice looms large in the legend of Tupac by showing yet another artform he could have been big in.
Revue Rating: 4 out of 5
Next week, we get our first rule break week. Love Crimes debuts, but is not available for streaming. Because of that, we cover another debut from the week of January 17, 1992. We visit the far future of 2009 with the sci-fi film Freejack.
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